Mary Lynn Rajskub Discusses Just For Laughs, '24,' Garry Shandling and Donald Trump

Mary Lynn Rajskub Discusses Just For Laughs, '24,' Garry Shandling and Donald Trump
Mary Lynn Rajskub is a talented comedian and actor who's best known for her portrayal of data analyst Chloe O'Brian on the iconic Fox drama, 24. But for comedy fans, she's recognizable for her work on groundbreaking efforts like Mr. Show, The Larry Sanders Show, and as a character actor in numerous films.
She's currently touring behind a one-woman comedy show called 24 Hours with Mary Lynn Rajskub, which she's presenting at Just for Laughs in Montreal, including upcoming performances on July 27 and 28. By the title alone, it's clear she's trying to figure out how to balance her core instincts as a comedian, with the character she'll always be associated with.
"It's very much equal but opposite," she tells Exclaim! of the dichotomy. "24 is a huge part of my life, but the thing that people know me most from is the most unlike who I am and what I did up to that point. I'd only done comedy so, to enter this show that was a worldwide phenomenon was very exciting, and I grew a lot as an actor on that show. But when it ended, it was like 'Now what?' I got back into standup and then accidentally got pregnant by a guy I barely knew who became my husband and it's all wrapped up [in the show].
"It's very autobiographical and my husband and kids are in it a lot. I start by saying my husband doesn't talk to me and it goes off on a tangent explaining that I do standup, but people know me from 24, and then I have these crazy experiences on the road and have to come home, as a mother and a wife, and acclimate to home life after doing crazy shit in comedy clubs. It's juggling all of these emotional states and not falling apart.
"The more direct storyline is that I flirt with my yoga teacher and end up buying a miniature horse."
Given the focus of her show, Rajskub doesn't dig into the comedy feast that is America's current election cycle or its obvious problems with gun violence, racism and police brutality, which, as a citizen, occasionally gives her some anxiety before she hits the stage to talk about her own life instead. But she says she's paying some attention to the presidential race and, like some of her peers, sees the difficulty in effectively mocking Donald Trump when he's already is making such a joke of the election process himself.
"Things are moving at such a fast rate," she says. "I glanced at his twitter feed recently versus Hillary Clinton's and his is exciting, dynamic and reactive. There's some real deep shit there about how we've designed our society to just react and sensationalize things that really don't have anything to do with how we govern ourselves, and just gets all mixed up in this fucked-up way. So it's like, how can somebody mock him — that's the tip of the iceberg and it's his playing field.
"He's an amazing performer," she continues. "That repetitive nature too, how he speaks directly to people? That's a powerful, compelling character. He's a character! It is closer to comedy. How many clips have we seen where you can't even follow what he's saying? But it's compelling and entertaining to just play a straight clip and it's like, 'Does anybody know what the fuck he just said?' There's nothing to even re-write."
Among Rajskub's most significant roles was her 18-episode stint playing talent booker Mary Lou on the groundbreaking '90s HBO sitcom, The Larry Sanders Show, whose star, co-creator, and primary writer Garry Shandling passed away earlier this year. Though the show ended in 1998, Rajskub says she maintained contact with Shandling.
"He really, in some ways, was very available to me," she recalls. "He really reached out to me; I had lunch with him a couple of times and he came to some of my early one-woman shows, which was very meaningful. You hear that from a lot of comedians. He really was very giving and showed up to things and was very thoughtful and emotionally aware as well, which is very rare in a comedian of his stature. He really taught me a lot on that show."
Rajskub reveals that she was actually a performance artist who dabbled in comedy when her friends, Janeane Garofalo (who also starred on Larry Sanders) and David Cross, got her an audition to be on the show. Shandling saw a tape of her doing some form of experimental standup and he and his writers called her in.
"It was the best audition ever, because it was basically Garry Shandling making faces at me and me going 'What are you doing?' and him going 'I dunno, what are you doing?' He was so in the moment and unafraid of not having material and just feeling out my vibe. It was fun, but there was nothing to it and for someone like me, who's more of an improvisational comedian, to have no script and just fuck around was great. They just nodded at each other, we all giggled, and they hired me. It was him seeing those qualities and trusting that he wanted to do this.
"I got such a crash course in acting from him and it was such a wonderful atmosphere and combination of intellect and emotion and character. It was very in the moment but very well crafted and that's a thing that he really valued and took a lot of time in caring for. It felt like home to me."
After this JFL run, Rajskub is taking her show to the renowned Fringe Festival in Edinburgh in August.
"Hopefully we'll do a special of that but we'll see," she says. "I'm really focused on the integrity of the material of the show and then will make some decisions about what to do next. I definitely want to do something bigger with it."
You can listen to this interview via the Kreative Kontrol podcast here: